Can We Undo the Course of Neurodegenerative Disease?

Columbia professor Rene Hen, Ph.D., called his former student Ai Yamamoto, Ph.D. , “one of the new young stars of Columbia University.” In describing her research into neurodegenerative disease, he cited “remarkable discoveries that have generated enormous hope.”

Following her mentor at Wednesday’s event, hosted by the University’s Mind Brain Behavior Institute and sponsored by the Dana Foundation, Dr. Yamamoto expressed gratitude for these generous words, but also trepidation. “You know those movie trailers that are really good, and then you go and see the movie and are disappointed? There’s a bit of pressure here…”

Yamamoto had little to worry about. The fascinating developments she recounted suggested the possibility not only of arresting the onslaught of diseases like Huntington’s disease (HD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but of undoing the damage done.

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Understanding How We Learn: Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Initiative

From who we marry to how we invest to the words we type, some of our most important decisions are based on how we process instantaneous feedback.

Daphna Shohamy, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology and founder and director of The Learning Lab at the Columbia University Mind Brain Behavior Initiative, focused on how the brain supports learning, memory, and decision-making in a lecture hosted by the initiative and sponsored by the Dana Foundation.

Shohamy began by showing two images side-by-side, one freezing terrain and the other, a sun-filled beach. She explained that at age 10, her family moved from Minneapolis to Tel Aviv, and the images depicted both environments. The stark differences between the cultures and her surroundings led her to wonder about the way we learn, and sent her on an academic path that would begin at Tel-Aviv University and include graduate work at Rutgers and Stanford universities before moving to Columbia University five years ago.

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